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Covid-19 hasn’t been about capitalism or socialism, it’s been about crapitalism and cronyism as corrupt elites destroy lives

Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Covid-19 hasn’t been about capitalism or socialism, it’s been about crapitalism and cronyism as corrupt elites destroy lives
Governments are dishing out lucrative Covid-related contracts to their woefully underqualified pals. As Johnson, Trump et al waste taxpayers’ money, their cronyism and incompetence is costing lives and livelihoods.

In African or South American countries, they’d call it corruption. In countries like the UK and the US, however, it’s called ‘networking.’ Scratch the right back, kiss the right arse, go to the right school, and life gets a lot easier and more lucrative, often thanks to a hefty wedge of public money. 

Even now, despite – in fact because of – the Covid-19 pandemic that has torn through the planet, wrecking lives and economies, the leaders of these countries have still been dishing out power and public cash to their hapless besties. 

Being bent isn’t new, of course. It’s their thing. But when the crisis dropped its gargantuan banana skin in front of every government and industry on the planet, with the stakes so high and the scrutiny so forensic (even when they point at people in dinghies to distract us), you’d have thought they’d have changed tack. Perhaps not ‘networked’ things quite so much, at least for a bit. 

Instead, they’ve networked the living daylights out of them.

While arguments have raged about ‘What does a pandemic best? Capitalism or socialism?’ and whether ostensibly pro-market governments have suddenly gone all Trot by handing out billions to keep their sinking ships from exploding instead, the only isms really in play are cronyism and crapitalism (I made that up and am very proud).

It’s jobs for the boys (or girls) as usual, experience and talent not required. 

More stories emerged this week of how the UK government led by Boris Johnson – a man whose entire life and career is based on who he knows rather than what he knows – has used catastrophe to grease the palms of its pals.

First, it announced that Public Health England, the executive body whose aim is to ‘protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing,’ is to be replaced by the National Institute for Health Protection.

Apart from the obvious buck-passing over the British balls-up of a response to Covid, the exercise seems to be nothing more than giving PHE a new name and a new boss: Baroness Harding of Winscombe. Or Dido to her friends, among whom you’ll find former prime minister David Cameron, who gave her the title (which comfortably beats an iTunes voucher in the gifting stakes).

Dido’s qualifications for the job? Well, she has kind of worked in the NHS before. She was in charge of the government’s Covid-19 ‘track-and-trace’ response. The really expensive one that doesn’t work and which is still trying to develop a functioning app whose first flawed iteration was revealed on May 5.

Her experience away from government? In 2017, she quit as boss of telecoms company Talk Talk after a major data breach that led to 157,000 customers having data stolen. But it’s fine, it’s not like she’s working on an app that will hold loads of personal data… 

What else? Oh yes, she’s married to Tory MP John Penrose and has a close relationship with Health Secretary Matt Hancock. 

Then we learned, in the light of the UK’s exams debacle, that the company Public First had been working with the now much-maligned regulator Ofqual. PublicFirst – a research firm that “influences public opinion” – is run by two former employees/colleagues of Michael Gove and Dominic ‘Rebel with a Land Rover’ Cummings. Its contract was awarded without going to tender and the amount of money involved hasn’t been disclosed. You know, the taxpayers’ money. Our money.

It was also given £840,000 ($1.1 million) by the Cabinet Office, notionally run by Gove and actually run by Cummings, to research public opinion of the government’s coronavirus performance. And another £116,000 ($151,925) by the Department of Health and Social Care to find out how it could “lock in the lessons learned” during the crisis.

I’m pretty sure I could have done all this just as effectively - and I’d have charged half the price.

Apparently skipping any kind of proper procedure with these contracts was OK because of  “exceptional circumstances” surrounding Covid. Because in an emergency, why would you want to get the best people on the job when you can? And there’s so much money being chucked around, who wouldn’t see their mates right, eh?

Hiring incompetents might be incompetence by an incompetent administration. It’s so incompetent that its incompetence since being elected – over Covid, Brexit, migration and pretty much everything else – has baffled and enraged even the UK’s almost uniquely right-wing and conservative mainstream press. When Fleet Street turns on a Tory regime, you know they’re in trouble. 

Or perhaps it’s a master plan: hire people even worse than you and you can use them as a scapegoat. And boy does this government love a scapegoat (see PHE above). 

Cronyism is a way of life in the UK. People get jobs through the ‘old school tie’ and the right handshake. We’re so cronyistic that we even make it part of our law-making process.

The House of Lords is a cathedral to the notion of rewarding your pals with power and money. Leaders get to hand out lifelong seats in parliament to pretty much anyone they like. Johnson’s latest additions include Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a KGB agent, and Jo Johnson, the son of Boris Johnson’s dad, aka Boris’s brother. 

It’s not a solely British trait, obviously. There are few people more cronyistic than Donald Trump; a narcissist who has a track record of screwing his businesses with some choice appointments and promotions of flatterers, ‘yes men,’ and friends.

And now he gets to screw his country with those same techniques.

Once elected US president, he didn’t hesitate to hand jobs to family members of varying intelligence – and he’s happily hit the eject button on anyone daring to question whether the world revolves around him.

His original 17-strong Covid task force, set up in February, contained a whopping four people with scientific or medical backgrounds. He also has a ‘shadow’ task force run by failed businessman and son-in-law of the president, Jared Kushner.

This crack squad of Kushner’s absolutely unqualified pals, according to the New York Times, “were told to prioritize tips on PPE availability from political allies and associates of President Trump.” It also allegedly pulled a much-needed testing programme in order to aid Trump’s election chances.

The relationship between people and cronyism is similar to that between the British and the monarchy. We know it’s wrong but we’re so used to it and there are so many larger and more pressing issues that it gets a pass. Why worry about a slow puncture when the engine’s on fire?

The problem now is that the puncture is making us veer off a cliff.

There are no larger or more pressing issues than the pandemic and its multitude of negative effects on our lives – and the people in charge, a tight-knit breed of elitists, are leaving the management of it in the hands of a few chancers and chums who know how to mutually scratch backs, wear the right tie or deliver a mirror-like shine to the right boots.

Like I said, if this was happening in Africa or South America, we’d be calling it corruption. So, to paraphrase, if it looks like corruption, walks like corruption, and stinks of corruption, then maybe we should call it corruption, too.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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